St. Louis hopes 'Ram-ball' helps fix red-zone problems

During a normal practice week, the Rams don't do their red zone work until Friday. But this isn't a normal week. Not after misfiring three times in the red zone Monday against the New York Giants and four times in five trips inside the 20 this season.

So on Wednesday, the Rams' did their "Ram-ball" drill in the red zone, instead of in the middle of the field.


Ram-ball, coach Steve Spagnuolo explained, "is basically the Rams' offense vs. the Rams' defense. It's usually about eight plays."

In other words, there's no scout team element to it. It's the Rams' starting offense against the second-team defense, and the Rams' second-team offense against the starting defense. They do it every week.

"But today, we did it in the red zone," Spagnuolo said. "And the emphasis was to play faster in the red zone on both sides of the ball. The only way to get better on something is to go back and work at it."

And the Rams' red zone offense needs work. A lot of work. Their 20 percent TD rate in the red zone (1 of 5) is second worst in the NFL so far, and it doesn't take a math major to realize that's a lot of points left on the field.

"It's getting to the point where it's on the players, and I think everybody's kind of realizing that," fullback Brit Miller said after practice. "Just the talk on the field today, and how everybody's kind of responding to each other, is to really hold each other accountable."

Particularly galling is the fact that these Rams drives aren't stalling at the 18_ or 19-yard line. They've had to settle for field goals twice after having a first-and-goal at the 1. Another drive stalled out at the 7; yet another at the 9.

"It's a point of pride down there," Miller said. "It's man-on-man."

"When you get down to the 1, I don't care what they line up in, we should be able to score," quarterback Sam Bradford said. "I think that has to be our attitude. I mean, we can't settle for three points any more."

There is no one simple explanation to the team's red zone failures. On a couple of Bradford throws, receivers simply couldn't get enough separation. On a couple of others, a more accurate throw would've resulted in a touchdown. Against Philadelphia, Bradford didn't see Danny Amendola breaking free over the middle, throwing instead to a well-covered Lance Kendricks near the right sideline on a pass that was almost intercepted.

Tight end Billy Bajema's false start helped unravel that same red zone sequence against the Eagles. Monday against the Giants, backside pursuit by New York resulted in Cadillac Williams being dropped for a one-yard loss on a second-and-goal running play from the 1. Later in the Giants' game, Danario Alexander was wide open on a quick slant from the New York 3 on third down but Giants linebacker Michael Boley tipped Bradford's pass and it fell incomplete.

"It comes down to execution," Bradford said. "I've got to be better. I missed a couple throws this week that would've resulted in touchdowns. When you get down there it's just too important in this league to score touchdowns and not kick field goals. That's definitely a point of emphasis for us going forward."

Interestingly, the Rams ran the ball only four times in 12 red zone plays against the Giants. Maybe they would've run it more had Steven Jackson, out with a thigh injury, been in the backfield.

"For an offensive lineman you really want to be able to punch it in on the ground," left tackle Rodger Saffold said. "Because it takes a lot of pressure off the quarterback, and the running back can just run as hard as he can and pretty much fall in there. So we've got to do a better job of that."

The Giants also did a fair amount of blitzing in the red zone, which complicated matters for the Rams.


"We're going to have to beat 'blitz zero' in order to score," Saffold said. "We know this."

Blitz zero coverage always brings in one more pass rusher than you have blockers. As a result, it means there are no extra defenders in coverage; for every receiver that's out on a pattern, there's just one defender to cover him.

"You've got to beat one-on-one coverage in the red zone," wide receiver Mike Sims-Walker said. "That's part of this game, and a lot of teams are going to do that, I'm pretty sure."

Because the red zone area is obviously more condensed, everything happens more quickly. That means the execution has to be crisp. Information has to be processed even more quickly than normal, and sometimes, instincts just have to take over _ and take over quickly.

Bradford liked the idea of doing red zone work during the high-speed Ram-ball period, even if it was just a handful of plays.

"The more (work) in the red zone, the more beneficial it'll be for us," he said. "That's the one area that you don't usually get a lot of work on during the week. It's usually a one-day-a-week deal. So any time we can steal a couple reps, whether it be on a Wednesday or a Thursday, I think it's going to help us on Sunday."

So "finishing" was the word of the day Wednesday at Rams Park. The offense is moving the ball pretty consistently between the 20s, but that's just far enough to get you beat, as was the case Monday night.

"We looked at the film, and we're there. We're right there," Sims-Walker said. "It's just one little thing, and it messes up the whole play. I mean we should've walked in the end zone at least three times. It was everything we were doing; it was nothing the Giants were doing."